Chhimi Dema

Various representatives from stakeholders relevant to the agricultural sector yesterday took stock of Bhutan’s future in agriculture.

Themed “Strengthening Bhutanese Food System for Gross National Happiness”, the dialogue discussed Bhutan’s food systems and the Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) Strategy 2040 to gather the recommendations and ideas from different sectors.

MoAF’s chief planning officer, Karma Tshering, said that collaboration from all sectors was critically important for sustainable food system in the country.

The recommendation and findings of the regional and national dialogue will be consolidated and made into a pathway document that would be presented during the UN Food Systems Summit (FSS) on September 23 this year.

The UN FSS aims to establish the future direction and launch bold actions to achieve Sustainable Development Goals.

Karma Tshering said the concerns raised during the dialogues were on fallow land because of rural-urban migration, water and irrigation, and marketing agricultural produce.

The major transformative pathways are viewing agriculture from the food security perspective and not just from food self-sufficiency and consistent farming that has been practised this far, he said.

Moreover, looking at the agricultural sector from a digital perspective, private sector participation, and the government as a facilitator and enabler in taking on board all sectors are some transformative areas, he said, which could build sustainable food systems.

“If we can tackle the issues of production, we have a sufficient amount of agriculture and horticulture produce,” Karma Tshering said. “Because of the scale and difficulties of production, rather than exporting, we are importing huge commodities.”

In 2019, Bhutan imported food (includes cereals, processed food, dairy, edible oil, meat and vegetables, fruits and spices) worth Nu 9.4 Billion (B) and Nu 8.9B worth in 2018.

Karma Tshering said that one of the ways to address food import is for the government to support the private sector with subsidies and enable them to reduce import.

Another way, he said, is to create an enabling environment such as tax subsidies, financial incentives and upscaling provisions for loans from existing banking sectors.

The first-ever RNR Strategy 2040 is also due to complete this year. The consultation regarding it started in 2018.

Karma Tshering said that the strategy would be the “mother document” that would guide the development of the agricultural sector in the country.

The strategy would look at how the country can be self-sufficient.

During the dialogue, Bhutan Ecological Society’s executive director, Nawang Norbu (PhD), highlighted that limited landholding, crop loss to wildlife and weather, limited inputs such as in irrigation, and labour constraints in the sector, are some of the challenges in the agricultural sector today.

Nawang Norbu said that there is a need to encourage, incentivise, and support climate-smart productions systems.

“Especially for Thimphu, if we ensure a steady supply of high-quality essential produce, it will entice youth,” he said, adding it will contribute to image building of farming as a technology-based enterprise.

What the country needs today, he said, is focus and interventions on strategic crops production, strengthening market information and building supply chain management, among others.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk